Monday, October 16, 2006

Greatest Orangeman Who Never Played

Syracuse University has a long and rich basketball tradition, starting back in 1901. Early All Americans such a Lew Castle and Joe Schwarzer; uber All American Vic Hanson in the 1920’s, the Reindeer Five in the 30’s; Bullet Billy Gabor in the 40s. Vinnie Cohen in the 50’s, the legendary Dave Bing in the 60s, Bouie ‘N Louie in the 70’s. Pearl, DC, The General and Owens in the 80’s. Poetry in Moten in the 90’s. Melo and GMac this century.

It’s possible, however, if not for a stroke of bad luck, the name people would have had at the top of that list could have been a gentleman by the name of Bobby Thompson.


Bobby Thompson was a 6’1” forward from Passaic, New Jersey, who came to Syracuse in the fall of 1922. But Thompson was legendary before he ever came to the Hill. He played for Prof. Ernest Blood on the Passaic Wonders High School basketball team, a team that would go on to win 159 consecutive games.

[Dr. Charles Hess has written an excellent book on the subject of this team, entitled “Prof. Blood and the Wonder Teams”, and he goes into detail on what they accomplished. But we’re focusing on Mr. Thompson here.]

Bobby Thompson was the first high school player to score 1,000 points in a single season, back in 1921-1922, averaging just over 30 points a game. Let’s put this accomplishment in perspective: During this era, a high scoring basketball team would score 25 points in an entire game. There was a center jump after every made basket, so fast breaks as we know them today were non-existent. No college basketball player had even scored 1,000 points for his entire career, yet Thompson was able to get 1,000 in one season!

Thompson was a rangy player, who could run the court well and was an exceptional perimeter shooter. One thing that helped his scoring totals was that he was the designated free throw shooter on his team. In this era, teams could have any player on the court shoot any free throw, and so the best shooters took all the free throws. That definitely helped his stats, but did not account for all or the majority of it. According to his brother Billy Thompson (a Syracuse alumni), Bobby could make five out of six free throws consistently while blind folded.

In Thompson’s senior season, the Passaic Wonders would out score their opposition 2,293 to 612. On January 25th, 1922 he would score 63 points in a game, a New Jersey state record. The record would not last long. In a pace that would be impressive even by today’s standards, Thompson would score another 62 points three days later on January 28th, and another 31 points on February 1st.

Then, the big day came, against Williams Prep on February 4th, 1922. Bobby Thompson would score 69 points that day on 27 field goals and 15 free throws, as Passaic won 145-5. That would be a New Jersey state record that would last until March, 1963… 41 years later. Over the course of four games, Thompson scored 225 points, averaging 56.3 per day.

Thompson would enroll at Syracuse following his graduation from high school, and would lead the Orange freshman team in scoring and to an undefeated season. Unfortunately tragedy would strike Thompson has he would suffer through rheumatic fever that spring, which would damage his heart, and leave him bed ridden for a lengthy time. Thompson had hopes of being able to make it back to play for the Orangemen, but that would never happen. He would end up earning his letter at Syracuse as the team manager for the 1928 Syracuse team. Following graduation he would be a successful businessman in Syracuse for several years before moving to New York City. (cite: Syracuse Post Standard, Frank Brieaddy, December 11, 1985)

How good could Thompson have been? Obviously, high school success doesn’t always translate to the college game.

But consider that Thompson’s high school teammate Johnny Roosma would enroll at West Point. Roosma would become college basketball’s first 1,000 point career scorer and would be inducted into the basketball hall of fame.

Thompson, as mentioned earlier, would lead the Orange Cubs (Syracuse freshman team) in scoring and to an undefeated record, before his illness. He would have teamed with Vic Hanson, being one year older than Hanson. All Hanson did was lead Syracuse to a National Championship in 1926 in what would have been Thompson’s senior season. Hanson of course, became the only individual inducted into the college football hall of fame and the basketball hall of fame.

Thompson clearly would have been part of the 1926 championship team, and if not the team’s leading scorer, definitely #2. Hanson put up scoring marks for Syracuse that weren’t broken until the 1940’s. The 1924-1925 Syracuse squad went 15-2; the two losses were by 3 points and 2 points. It’s quite conceivable with a healthy Thompson on that team, they would’ve gone undefeated with back-to-back championships.

Thompson’s kid brother, Billy Thompson, was a scholarship player at Syracuse from 1937-1939, lettering three times, and a prominent scorer on those teams.

So, when you consider what Bobby Thompson accomplished in high school, plus evaluated what his high school teammate ended up accomplishing, factoring in what Thompson did as a freshman at Syracuse, and considering who he would’ve been teamed with for two seasons on the varsity at Syracuse, he would definitely at the minimum have been a superstar player… and maybe, possibly, the greatest basketball legend ever at Syracuse. Instead, he rightfully earns the distinction as the Greatest Orangeman Who Never Played.

Bobby Thompson would pass away in January of 1985 at the age of 82, long outliving the damage to his heart.



MariusJanulisForThree said...

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Uncle Billy said...

Dave Bing! Now there's a blast from the past.